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August 17th, 2013

Love's Labors Lost

I have a review of The Nance started for you, but first I HAVE to tell about our adventure tonight.  Because it was a real--if mild--adventure, of the completely unplanned and serendipitous kind, and even while it was happening I didn't quite believe it.

So, it was our anniversary today.  One of them, anyway, the most recent one, the We Got Legally Married in Massachusetts one, with a rabbi and a license and everything.  It was also the day The Fall of the Kings audio book goes on pre-sale before its August 26th pub date, so there was a lot to celebrate.  We chose to meet a friend for a picnic in Central Park, with a bottle of champagne Ellen's brother sent us and a kale salad I made and some pate the friend brought.  We met, we ate, we talked.  We ran into Helen Pilinovsky, her husband and darling son Oberon, who ran around handing us cookies and grinning while we talked.  We had, in short a perfect New York evening.  And when we parted, Ellen said, "Let's go see if we can get into see the play."  And I said, "It's too late."  And she said, "I have a feeling."  So we went and got at the very, very end of the standby line, behind maybe 40 other people waiting to be told if there were any extra seats to be had.  And the play started and it got dark and we could hear the singing from inside the theater, and there were still 30+ people standing patiently, and I was feeling not particularly patient and maybe ready to give up, when this guy in a towering white headwrap and a loose white shirt kind of glided up to us and said, "I was supposed to meet some people here and give them these, but I guess they aren't coming.  You take them."

So we did.  With profuse thanks.  We waited for a few more minutes until there was a "seating break," and then we sat down, maybe 10 minutes into the play--pretty good seats, too, on the side and about half-way up the theater--looked at each other, grinned, and watched the play.

We liked it lots.  We've both seen LLL many times, separately and together, classically presented, reimagined, set in nearly every century between the 16th and the 20th.  But we've never seen anything remotely like this one.  For one thing, it's a musical, with songs written by Michael Friedman of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson fame and an intermittently Shakespearean book by Alex Timbers. For another, while it's not exactly LLL, it's not exactly not LLL either.  The plot is basically the same, although trimmed down to 90 lean, mean minutes of running time.  The characters are all there, although there might have been a pedant missing--I'm not entirely sure.  The King and his gentleman scholars are overprivileged, overeducated recent Ivy League grads.  The Princess and her court are their Seven Sisters opposite numbers in strappy dresses and stilettos.  Their speeches veer from the Shakespearean text to plain modern dialogue to the occasional improv (when the mikes all squeaked and roared and occasionally died during one scene) to Shakespearean song to interpolated number without warning, but with occasional rhyme, and plenty of reason, once I figured out what they were doing.

A lot of it was for comic effect--some of it a little on the cheap side, some of it genuinely hilarious, like when the King and his lads pretend to be German expressionist performance artists prancing and gesturing to a Philip Glassian number.  Some of it underscored issues of class, race, and gender that Shakespeare was indeed playing with, giving them a modern context and a modern intent no citizen of 16th Century England could have imagined. And the end was genuinely heartbreaking.  A year and a day is too long for a play indeed, and the way Berowne said it, I couldn't really hold out a lot of hope for poor Rosalind.

The acting was great.  Colin Donnell, who played Berowne, was in Anything Goes, which I did see, although I don't remember whether I saw him in it.  I do, however, remember seeing Daniel Breaker, who played the King of Navarre, in Passing Strange. He's older now, more solid as a presence and a voice.  I was really impressed.  Rebecca Naomi Jones, who played Jacquenetta, is a Passing Strange alumna, too.  I loved her.  Also Patti Murin as the Princess (who was not in Passing Strange).  It's not an easy part, there not being much personality in it, as much as a series of more or less conventional attitudes and reactions.  But I felt, watching her, that there was a real person there, with a real heart and real opinions.  She was in Lysistrata Jones, which I missed, and now I wish I hadn't.

Seeing anything in the Delacourt, with birds flying by and the moon rising over the Lodge where the King and his lads were on their scholarly retreat and real water in the hot tub, is always a thrill.  Especially on our anniversary, sitting in seats handed to us by a complete stranger for no good reason when there was no way in hell we were ever going to get in.  And the show closes Sunday.  This is the kind of thing that happens around Ellen.  The luck of the Kushners, she calls it.  I just think it's magic. As is she.

The Nance

I started this last week, but it's still pretty much accurate--including not quite being unpacked.  The piano's gone, however, and I now have 25 square feet of living room space I didn't have before, which is a good thing.  Anyway, finishing it now, and hoping to Be More Timely in the Future.  (Ha!)

Back in New York after a glorious 6 weeks in Roanoke, VA, teaching Studies in Genre Writing: Fantasy in the Hollins Children's Literature MA Program.  We are almost unpacked, absolutely disorganized, I'm behind on many deadlines, and inclined to keep my writing time for fiction, but there's a Man With A Van coming at some unspecified hour to pick up my grandmother's unfixable baby grand piano (well, not actually unfixable, but it'll cost the earth and the fact is, I don't play the piano) and take it away to a charity that fixes and donates reasonably nice pianos (which this one is) to schools and so on. wild_irises
is in town, and we took the day off to spend with her, walking in Riverside Park, going up to Broadway to the Columbia Farmers Market and a stop at Le Monde for a little thyme/honey limeade, fetching up after some fennel/chicken/cilantro salad on Broadway, where Ellen had procured TDF tix for The Nance, with Nathan Lane, on what turns out to be one of its last nights before it closes.

Thus, a review.

Short version:  it's a good play.  It manages to be genuinely funny about a thorny and loaded subject (self-hating gay men--in this case, in 1930's New York in the declining days of burlesque) without flinching from the realities of the situation.  The writing is smart as well as clever, the music is spot-on, the costumes convincing.  The acting is remarkable, especially Broadway newcomer Jonny Orsini as the Love Interest.  And Nathan Lane, of course.  Nathan Lane is amazing.  So is Cady Huffman, who breathes statuesque life into the rather one-dimensional left-wing stripper Sylvie.

And yet.  I dunno.  I wanted to like it more than I ended up liking it.  I felt for Chauncey, I really did.  I've met men (and women) like him, so badly damaged by the loathing society has heaped on them that they can't help but pass that damage on.  It's not a particularly nuanced portrait, but a musical is not a particularly nuanced art form, and (perhaps more to the point) Lane isn't a particularly nuanced actor. Thing was, I just couldn't see why the sweet semi-innocent Ned, who'd left his young wife because he thought she deserved a man who could love her the way she needed to be loved, saw to love in Chauncey.  And since their relationship is the heart of the play (as opposed to its political plot, which, as far as I can tell, exists to give the other characters something to do), this was a real problem.

Plus, the girls didn't really have much to do but throw their pasties and their gum-chewing accents around.  But that's
show business on Broadway these days.  You have to go Off to see interesting women doing interesting things these days.

Still, there were lovely moments, quite a lot of very funny low comedy, and the decor was splendid.  We had a wonderful time deconstructing it afterwards, and I only wish I could remember half the smart things we said, so I could transcribe them here.  But that's what happens when I put off writing a review until I have time.

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